All the things that went into the making of Jasprit Bumrah, India's fast-bowling superhero
In his home town, Ahmedabad, Jasprit Bumrah already has his own urban legend. Like all stories out of 21st-century Indian metros, it involves a traffic jam.
An "IPL organiser" takes a lane to avoid the famously gridlocked Vijay Char Rasta, an intersection not far from the Gujarat University campus. The diversion takes him past one of the college's cricket grounds, where the sight of a boy bowling thunderbolts catches his eye. He stops his car (and it is assumed the boy's run-up), hands over a visiting card, and in two days Jasprit Jasbirsingh Bumrah is in Mumbai, with Mumbai Indians and in the IPL.
The city Bumrah belongs to is not made for fast bowlers, express or otherwise. Many months of the year, it can be argued, Ahmedabad is not made for cricket itself. A hub of business and industry, set upon an arid, beige, unyielding landscape, more sand in sight than mud, it is where batsmen go to plunder, bowlers go to die, and where cricket people discuss whether the summer will score a half-century - i.e. hit 50°C - like it did in 2016. So far the most famous cricketers out of Ahmedabad, out of Gujarat - the cricket team, not the state, which also includes the Baroda and Saurashtra teams - had been Patels. Offspinner Jasu, of Kanpur 1959 fame; decades later the pocket-sized, chirpy wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv.
Today, atop that heap sits a rattlingly fast bowler who materialised, in the romantic imagination at least, out of Ahmedabad's scorching, stinging air, hurling down a heavy ball that carries, it seems, traces of the whistling roasters from the Rann. Within three years of his international debut, Bumrah has elevated himself to India's all-wicket, all-conditions, all-format fast bowler, No. 1 in the ICC ODI rankings. Along with his quixotic, biomechanics-busting action, he has established for Indian fast bowling never-seen-before markers. On the eve of the biggest event in his career, the 2019 World Cup, Bumrah is the complete package of speed, variety, fitness and smarts, a fast-bowling superhero. His own choice from that species is unsurprisingly the Flash, but for the Indian bowling pack their superhero is the boy called Boom.
The last time he played ODIs in England, in the 2017 Champions Trophy, he was in his first year with India. That event ended badly, India conceding 338 in the final, and the title to Pakistan. Everyone remembers Bumrah's three no-balls - or at least the one that got the wicket of centurion Fakhar Zaman in the fourth over. In the 407.4 overs Bumrah has sent down in all white-ball cricket since then, he has bowled only six no-balls. Six. From about 2446.
Bumrah returns to ODI cricket in England two years later as Powerplay containment artist and death-overs destroyer. He has become the quiet leader of India's bowling brotherhood, sending down more overs across formats than any Indian, with 89 wickets from 591.2 overs at an average of 21.85 and an economy rate of 3.28, coming through stronger, quicker and full tilt - this off a reconstructed ligament in his left knee, held down by titanium screws.
Like his sporting hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic said of himself, Bumrah became the lightning that struck. India's seam and swing bowlers have usually been erratically isolated weather systems. The perfect storm had been a long time coming.
The boy who came in from the cold
The urban legend contains in it a sliver of truth - a tiny but sticky sliver. In the summer of 2010, Anil Patel, secretary of the city's district cricket body, Central Board of Cricket Ahmedabad, was watching a match at the MG Science Institute Ground in the university's campus. He noticed somebody on the practice wickets generating blinding pace compared to the bowlers in the match. Patel says he went over and asked the bowler, "Why don't you join us?"
The kid played for a new school called Nirman HS, in the plate division of the schools competition. Just like no one knew who he was, Patel says, the boy knew nothing of how to progress in the game. The next day he did join the ranks at the Gujarat Cricket Association's Under-19 districts camp being held in Motera.
It is only then that Bumrah "apparates", to use a Potterism, into state cricket, on a scoresheet of an Under-19 district match in Surat, as the bowler who took six wickets. In the nets, his pace shook up his team-mates. A young man called Meet Shah, who has played Gujarat Under-23s, remembers being hit on the shoulder first ball. "I was just late on the shot. So, so late," he says with a smile.
Bumrah's Ranji team-mate and buddy Manprit Juneja adds a segment to the folklore, telling the story of a Bumrah yorker that "broke the toe of another bowler who was going to get selected - that's how he got selected." It is true. Only a fourth-choice seam bowler, Bumrah made the XI because the replacement for Naman Patel of broken-toe fame injured himself too.
Bumrah's locked-in yorker came from tennis-ball cricket, where it is the most fail-safe way to get wickets. Coaches and academies in Ahmedabad actively discourage tennis-ball cricket, but it is played widely, wherever open space is found in a rapidly expanding city. (Meet Shah is co-founder of Cricheroes, a popular amateur cricket-scoring platform, and says the app has scored 19,450 tennis ball matches in Ahmedabad since its launch in October 2016. That's a little more than 22 games every day.)
If marked on a graph, Bumrah's career would show an exponential spike when he was around 20. This is a cricketer who made his U-19 debut for Gujarat in December 2011, five days before he turned 18. He played 24 age-group matches before being picked for the Gujarat T20 squad in 2013. In only his second match for the Gujarat senior team, the urban legend took on a kind of real magic.
On March 18, 2013, at the Motera B ground, a scraggy-haired stick figure bowls his last two overs, landing (or trying to land) yorker after yorker. Looking on is former India coach John Wright, then head coach of Mumbai Indians. The batsmen are Mumbai openers Aditya Tare and Shoaib Shaikh. The No. 3, Abhishek Nayar, remembers: "Two pure batsmen at the crease, two overs of unbelievable yorkers. We couldn't get him off the square." Tare returns to the dressing room and says that the strange bowler was "a lot sharper than you thought". One ball hits a batsman's footmark, shoots up over wicketkeeper-captain Parthiv Patel's head and zips over the boundary line.
In the gallery, Wright sits up. Woah. The lad has wheels. "With some players you see something different and you go… there's something there. It was the same that day. Real wheels."
He watches two overs, talks to Parthiv, makes a phone call to HQ, and Bumrah is invited to sign up for the IPL's richest franchise.
It has been more than five years, but the emotion of hearing the news first is still fresh in the voice of Jasprit's schoolteacher mother Daljit Bumrah. "It was, you cannot… it was the greatest moment for me. It is a big thing, meaning I felt that his talent has been spotted. I really thanked God. I had tears in my eyes."
Cocked and loaded: Bumrah in the MCG Test last year, where he took nine wickets, giving India a series-sealing 2-1 lead
Michael Dodge / © Getty Images
Cocked and loaded: Bumrah in the MCG Test last year, where he took nine wickets, giving India a series-sealing 2-1 lead Michael Dodge / © Getty Images
Faster than the rest
Cricket existed outside Daljit's orbit. The only matches she watched were India v Pakistan, because, well, everybody did. From the corner of her eye, she noticed her son's tennis-ball matches in the building compound and his obsessive TV- watching.
They live in a sturdy, middle-class Ahmedabad locality called "Drive-in", after the cinema less than a kilometre away, where movies still run and tickets are cheap. The apartment complex "garden", serving a dozen fading buildings is a rectangular patch of earth no larger than a badminton court or two. It hosts loud, ferocious building matches. Everyone now says they remember the boy in shorts, but maybe that is because today they see "Jasprit 93" on the back of an India blue.
On Sunday afternoons Daljit could hear the familiar dull thud of the ball cannoning into the junction of floor and wall at one end of the longest corridor in their flat. The flat got smaller, the corridor shorter, and as the boy got older, she would hear him moving around early and heading out. On his bicycle, 30-odd minutes one way, for training, for trials, for matches. Her energetic scamp of a son turned into a disciplined devotee of the game. Not a day or a time missed. If the cycle broke down and he did not have enough change in his pockets, he would push it along on foot, summer, winter or the sticky in between.
When he was no older than 16, Jappi sat his mother down and said he wanted "to go into cricket". Only. Full-time. He wasn't promising to play for Gujarat, for India, for any team in particular. He just wanted to find his way in the game and said to his mother, "Please have faith in me." As an anxious single mother, Daljit believed she had nothing to arm him with in an impossible mission.
"For me there was always a doubt," she says, "that there was no chance - the world so cruel, so bad, how is he going to fulfil his dreams. So many kids want to become cricketers, I don't have anybody, no jack, nothing." Jack. The word comes from the automobile accessory used while changing tyres. In India it means a connection, an individual who hoists you up the ladder.
Mom you have worked really hard all your life, you've done it for us. From a teacher to a principal, now you are retiring. You've had such a successful career and we're proud of you. Now it's time for us to take care of you. Put your feet up and relax mom. We love you. pic.twitter.com/yOjaV2yktB— Jasprit bumrah (@Jaspritbumrah93) April 29, 2019
All her boy had was a deep well of belief in what he had seen and learnt, watching and playing through childhood, and the desire for the game to consume him. Daljit accompanied him a few times to selection trials, then heard that he had been picked, for plate-level schools games, districts games, "and I felt there was something there". In the Netflix documentary Cricket Fever, which chronicles a Mumbai Indians season, Daljit tells a story that has her in tears. About her teenage son badgering her to buy a pair of Nikes when she couldn't afford the damn things. Money was sparse, there needed to be enough food on the table to feed two growing kids, and bills had to be paid on time. On her teacher's salary, Nikes were a luxury. Her son swallowed his disappointment and promised her, "One day, I will buy them myself."
Daljit decided that cricket or not, it was important to her that her son complete his high-school exams. It was her only condition for a middling student, who she says "studied last-minute only". The boy knuckled down and got through his Std XII. (Commerce, in case anyone cares). Their financial straits, Daljit says, sorted themselves out when she was hired by a new school, called Nirman HS, as principal of its pre-primary section, and when her son started playing districts cricket and small tournaments. He brought home his modest match fees. Not state, not IPL. It wasn't Nike-level earnings, but it was the chance to breathe a little easier. It was a message to the boy that the game contained the power to alter his circumstances.
At the time former Gujarat coach Kalpesh Patdiwala ran (and still runs) his own academy and worked with Bumrah, who had, he says, a simple game plan. "When I have the ball in my hand, sir," the boy said, "I have to bowl fast, faster than anyone else. Doosra koi nahin karta, woh mujhe karna hai" [I have to do what no one else can].
"It's just him"
On a Mumbai Indians bus ride in the early days, Wright asked Bumrah how he learned to bowl. Watching TV, Bumrah said, trying to copy bits from every bowler who took a fifer and replicate their silver-bullet yorkers. From the toe-crushing smorgasboard of Waqar, Wasim, Donald, Lee, Shoaib emerged Bumrah's biomechanical wonder. The jack-in-the-box with a mind of its own - the wobbly-looking spring that shoots out of its container and hits you on the nose.
The apartment complex where Bumrah and his mother live
Sharda Ugra / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
The apartment complex where Bumrah and his mother live Sharda Ugra / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
The start is innocuous: four steps, four skips, four paces of the start of a run. By the last of those, the left arm is parallel to the ground, the front leg has loaded, the right arm has wheeled over, and in milliseconds, the ball is already at the other end - at the batsman's toes, past his bat, or onto his face.
At the Old Bowlers Union, they have adopted Bumrah as one of their own - cut from the same cloth but with pinking scissors.
Former New Zealand fast bowler and current Mumbai Indians bowling coach Shane Bond says, "Boom's action, though unique, is repeatable. He has great control." It is control Bumrah has slaved for. His pace is like carefully stoked fire.
His action is broken down into two parts by Ashish Nehra, former India team-mate and brass-tacks philosopher: "What you do in 75-80% of your run-up, nothing matters. It's the last 15-20%, the last four-five steps, which is the main thing. That is bowling. Bumrah runs differently, but in his last three-four steps - he is loading, front leg, back leg, everything is in alignment, and he is quick through the air."
During a recent series, Nehra asked the TV producers to create a split-screen of Bumrah's action below the chest alongside any other fast bowler. "You will not be able to tell, oh, this guy Jasprit Bumrah has some weird action… You won't see his back foot is trailing, his knee is bending, nothing."
Ashish Nehra: "Now he's gone from good to really, really good"
Deepak Malik / © BCCI
Ashish Nehra: "Now he's gone from good to really, really good" Deepak Malik / © BCCI
In his final first-class season, 2013, Nehra ran into Bumrah at a Ranji match in Surat and made one of his pronouncements to the captain, Parthiv: "Yeh India khelega" [He will play for India]. It was only Bumrah's second Ranji match and Parthiv replied, "Ashubhai, aap kuch bhi bolte ho" [Ashubhai, you're just talking loosely]. Nehra admits that for all their visible skills, you can never see how far people will go. "So with Jasprit Bumrah I could see, but now obviously he's gone from good to really, really good." His emphasis on the phone is an audible grin.
As India T20 team-mates across 2016 and 2017, the two exchanged notes constantly. At the T20 Asia Cup in Bangladesh in early 2016, Bumrah showed Nehra an early edition of his outswinger. "It wasn't Jimmy Anderson or Dale Steyn outswing, but to a right-hander it's coming in and then it shapes away. Thoda" [A little]. Nehra advised Bumrah to use it when he felt like it, in a 50-overs game to start with, "and then you can use this when you play Test matches". At which point, Nehra says, Bumrah laughed, "Mere ko kaun Test match khilayega?" [Who will pick me for Test matches?] "I said, you wait and watch, everyone will pick you." That outswinger turned up in his debut year in Tests.
In the Mumbai Indians nets Sri Lankan yorker-meister Lasith Malinga, himself introverted and withdrawn, instinctively reached out like a kindred. The first thing Bumrah remembers about their meeting, he told the stand-up comic Vikram Sathaye in an interview, is Malinga saying, "I'll teach you stuff, don't worry, I'm there." Malinga was ready to train with him, share trade secrets, open up his box of tricks. "I didn't try to teach him too much that was new," he told ESPNcricinfo's Andrew Fidel Fernando. "I just told him what I know and tried to light a fire in him for the things he already enjoyed doing."
From Malinga's experience, Bumrah learned not just bowling judiciousness but emotional discipline and how to separate the situation from the solution. "When I started playing cricket, I used to get angry," he said in an interview to the Times of India. "I used to do stupid things in front of batsmen, I could go and say anything. But as I played with Malinga, I realised the calmer you are, the better you are. Because at that time your brain starts to work." It makes sledging purposeless and during high-pressure situations turns the game into a problem to be solved. No matter the roar of the crowd or the size of the stakes, Bumrah listens to the voice in his head: "Keep calm, don't panic, stick to your plan."
Said Mali to Boom: "I'll teach you stuff, don't worry, I'm there"
Vipin Pawar / © BCCI
Said Mali to Boom: "I'll teach you stuff, don't worry, I'm there" Vipin Pawar / © BCCI
The singular mystery of Bumrah's action is the Wasim Akram-ish ability to generate pace with minimal momentum. Anil Kumble, chief mentor at Mumbai Indians when Bumrah joined in 2013, puts it down the use of the shorter levers, the arms - their whippy whirl-around and the strength of the body behind it.
Mitchell Johnson, once a team-mate whose helmet Bumrah cheekily yanked around with a short ball in the nets, talks of the braced front leg. "It is probably the most important thing that I see. He really snaps it down straight and catapults over it, and the back leg comes through and just gets through the crease - it's something you can't teach. It's just him."
The disproportionate load from an action of this sort has not escaped the scientists. In any fast bowler, the impact on the front foot while landing is between eight and nine times the body weight (three times the body weight on the back foot). Every time he hammers down on his front foot, Bumrah's left hip, ankle and knee are absorbing ground reaction forces of anything between 560kg and 630kg. Every joint is virtually calling out to be damaged.
Except, the one injury that dealt Bumrah the biggest roadblock of his career did not come from bowling. Rather, it was a twisted left knee that came in a warm-up game of football in Rohtak, October 2014.
It was the day before the West Zone Duleep Trophy quarter-final versus East Zone. MRIs showed tears in the anterior cruciate ligament (which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone) and the meniscus (a shock-absorber cartilage between the same bones). It was Bumrah's second year for Gujarat. He had just got into the India A squad, the IPL was a few months away, a career lay before him and a game of bloody football had busted the knee.
Bumrah took only four months to recover from his knee surgery and thereafter focused on transforming his body into a fit, disciplined machine
Paul Kane / © Getty Images
Bumrah took only four months to recover from his knee surgery and thereafter focused on transforming his body into a fit, disciplined machine Paul Kane / © Getty Images
Bumrah was too high-priority for his IPL team to dawdle or brood over. The fastest fix was surgery, an arthroscopic reconstruction in which the damaged ligament is shaved and a new ligament is created with a graft from a tendon in the hamstring or the quadriceps and secured with screws or buttons. The usual recovery time from such surgery is six to 12 months. Post-surgery, for the first two months even flexing the knee more than the bare minimum is forbidden.
Nitin Patel, the Mumbai Indians physio, got stuck into Bumrah's rehab, preparing in consultation with the surgeon, Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala, a daily schedule and a milestone chart. Trainer Rajnikanth Sivanganam went to work too, and within three weeks Bumrah was on bowling-focused exercises without putting any load on the knee. He went from the date of surgery to return to play in four months. Dr Pardiwala gives no details and will only say he had "immense respect for this young man's determination to return to competitive cricket in record time".
If Bumrah's career could be divided into segments, the 2014 surgery marks his transformation from prodigy to professional. It was to bring everything home. He committed himself not just to post-surgery rehab but to improving overall fitness.
It meant off-season sessions of bowling in the morning, gym and recovery in the evening. He doesn't get into warm-up football games any more. Weight management knocked off fried foods, bread and sweets, with weekly cheat days allowed once targets were met. He showed off a six pack on social media, but the real impact was on the field. A stronger core was to give him greater stability at the crease while loading, and greater strength and endurance translated into an increase in pace, from an average of 137-138kph to 142-143kph. Nehra says, "140kph is today his average starting ball, and five kph more than when he was younger is a massive difference."
Bumrah found the ideal post-surgery counsel in Bond, whose own career had been dogged by a litany of injuries. Bond had broken down and built himself up again and again, and he taught Bumrah patience and how to maximise on-field time by investing more in the pre-match drawing board. Bond, Bumrah told Sathaye, made him start, planning for every batsman. "Earlier it was, 'I'll do whatever comes to mind at the time.' But to be successful, you have to plan. You have to be prepared - it can't be just like 'on the day'- it won't work every day…"
The nets are Bumrah's sweat laboratory, where spells and responses are to be experimented with and built. By simulating match situations - new-ball sessions, middle overs, death overs - and by talking to batsmen and asking them what they were thinking and how to respond. The match becomes the factory where stuff is made, where wickets are taken and history is created. "The harder you practise," Bumrah once said, "the easier it will get in the match; that's been my philosophy."
The plans have come from the many discussions with Bond - how to choose between the slower ball or the bouncer at the end of an innings, what fields to set, using his awareness of the zones the ball goes to when he is bowling at his best. Bond says, "The great thing about Jasprit is that he doesn't try to appease everybody. He is prepared to ask those questions."
He has always been this way. In 2013, Kumble ran into a young man with a "sound mind and cricketing smarts… This guy the first time you saw him, he knew exactly what he wanted." Bumrah's unorthodoxy brought with it an armour of self-belief, Kumble says, which helped because he was different. "Either you fall apart because somebody keeps coming and telling you you can't be like this, or you are so self-assured you don't really care."
Harbhajan Singh, Bumrah's India and Mumbai Indians buddy, reminds you that, like him, Bumrah is a Ramgarhia Sikh. A community of working men, carpenters - like Vishwakarma, the architect for the gods himself. The kind of people, Harbhajan says, "who can take a look at a building and tell you if it's built properly, seedhi hai, tedhi hai" [if it's built straight or crooked]. The cricketing metaphor almost writes itself. Except, fast bowlers are not made by metaphor.
How to pick, how to prey
On the notice board of the Nirman School in Ahmedabad's Vastrapur neighbourhood, Bumrah is easily spotted. He is its most famous alumnus; it seems a clipping from his every appearance in English and Gujarati newspapers is up on the board. Where it is hard to find him, though, like when it comes to tracing his pre-2011 career, is in photographs of the school's age-group teams. That could be him among an U-17 bunch, sitting next to the coach, shadowed by the peak of his cap. Or maybe not.
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
© ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Before the age of 17, Bumrah was virtually invisible. Narendra Pancholi, coach at HB Kapadia New High School, where Daljit taught and Jasprit studied for a few years, remembers a 13-or-14-year-old who was so quick for his age that kids couldn't see the ball. "If he bowled at the stumps, then it was certain uska wicket gaya." Pancholi says he tried to fix Bumrah's no-ball problems and advised Daljit to move her son to a front-line cricket school. Daljit has no memory of that; many years later, though, Bumrah did play in a few matches for the city's most celebrated cricketing school, Vidya Nagar, as a "guest player".
Bumrah's team-mate and Gujarat fast bowler Roosh Kalaria inadvertently offers up yet another origin myth that makes it sound like he emanated out of one of those shimmering mirages found on the roads in Ahmedabad every summer. "We didn't hear about him till we saw him." Imagine batsmen facing him cold, with no warning.
In 2013, two days before his IPL debut, Bumrah bowled to Sachin Tendulkar, who then wandered over to Wright. The new kid's action made him hard to pick. The batsman who faced about 325 international bowlers over 25 years finds this stringy unknown's weird action hard to pick.Brilliant.
Tendulkar says today: "When I saw him for the first time… I realised there was something special. That action, nice, upright, but it's awkward, hard to pick, and there's just that pause in his action..." Bumrah's "pause" is caused by the hyperextension of his elbow, which throws a batsman's eyes, mind, instinct and muscle memory off for a fraction of a second. A hyperextension of even the smallest degree past the elbow's 180 adds considerable degrees of difficulty to the questions posed to batsmen.
In studying Bumrah, Tendulkar breaks down "watch the ball" into these parts: release point, wrist position, arm speed. He says what many do: "You have to play him for a bit to understand what he does." Watch the wrist and the release point, he suggests, "because every bowler has to get into that position to bowl an outswinger or inswinger or slower ball… the release point will give you some indication of what he is trying to do".
Unorthodox doesn't begin to describe it: a fresh-faced Bumrah bowls in his second IPL, in 2014
Unorthodox doesn't begin to describe it: a fresh-faced Bumrah bowls in his second IPL, in 2014 © BCCI
There's more to that action than catches the untrained eye. In 2012, Wasim Jaffer, first-class giant, stopped on his way to the MCA Club ground when he saw a young bowler generate pace with a disjointed action. When Jaffer played Bumrah months later in Valsad, Makhaya Ntini came to mind - whippy speed from wide on the crease. Jaffer remembers being cramped on shots, and finding it awkward to line up Bumrah and his angles. Again, like Tendulkar, he says playing Bumrah more often would help, or else "before you understand him, he could strike".
CricViz recently analysed Bumrah's release point and found it to be 36cm wider on the crease than the global average while bowling over the wicket to right-handers, and 22cm tighter than the global average while bowling round the wicket to left-handers.
If you use the vertical that meets the eyeline of the right-hand batsman as 12 o'clock, Bumrah's release point could go from anything between 11 to 1. Ish. Cheteshwar Pujara, Bumrah's India team-mate, says, "It's not just one release point, it also differs all the time - maybe one point could be 80% [of his deliveries], but he has the ability to change that as well."
Once the ball has left Bumrah's hand, Pujara says, it comes packed with speed and radar-guided precision. "Jasprit is very accurate. Someone who bowls at 150kph and can still swing the ball is very rare. He is one of those."
Bumrah's piece de resistance, Pujara says, is the "one ball which strikes" an ability he saw, in Dale Steyn "at his peak". The kind that deceives the batsman, "because you try and face them in a certain manner and they can surprise you with that one ball".
Bumrah with fellow Gujarat resident Ravindra Jadeja at a wedding reception for Virat Kohli in 2017
Milind Shelte / © India Today Group/Getty Images
Bumrah with fellow Gujarat resident Ravindra Jadeja at a wedding reception for Virat Kohli in 2017 Milind Shelte / © India Today Group/Getty Images
Batsmen are always told to prepare to face the ball, not the bowler; when at the crease, keep their minds free, blank. Against Bumrah, they must set aside a clutch of factors in the act of his bowling - from run-up to point of release - before the ball has even left his hand, let alone reached the batting end. Blimey.
Grounded, grown up
In the millennial Indian dressing room, much like on the field, Bumrah belongs to the micro-tribe of the unflappable. Methodical, never rushed, never scrambling to find his gear, always on time. The words often used to describe his nature are "grounded, centred, sound, intelligent, thoughtful". He is a sponge, ready to listen, filter and soak in whatever he is being told about bowling, cricket, everything, anything. It could be life lessons or chats about matters military or the business of setting up batsmen, reading their minds through body language (Mahi bhai is quite the go-to-guy there.) Who's in form, who's nervous, who's the real boss, who's pretending, what are the signals to look for in a batsman's walk to the crease, the grip of their bat, the movement about the crease (okay, other than Steve Smith).
In airports, Bumrah is not the one making the dash to check out new gadgets or sunglasses, but rather wandering through bookstores with a soberness underlined by those low-power glasses, once worn as a disguise, looking for reading material, sports biographies all the better. The one book everyone has seen him read, so there's no counting how many times he has gone through it: I Am Football, by Ibrahimovic.
In Australian cricket's stratification of team members into Julios and Nerds, Bumrah would never be a Julio, always a Nerd. On his Twitter account, he once longingly wished he had what his uberidol Ibrahimovic owned in spades: charisma. Yet, in no way is he an ingénue nerd. This is a cricketer aware of surroundings and situation. Of where he has come from and where he would like to go.
They're all I have. They're all I need.♥ pic.twitter.com/VxOESSHhiZ— Jasprit bumrah (@Jaspritbumrah93) April 25, 2019
Bumrah has learnt from his mother's life, his upbringing and her faith. When the children were eight and five, Daljit's world came crashing down with the death of her husband, Jasbir, from illness. The family business dissolved. Jasbir's family turned away from the daughter-in-law. She was left with two young children and the support of her own family in Mumbai and a few friends in Ahmedabad. Those days of grief and desertion, she says, left her with no choice. "You have to become strong. You see your two kids and you cannot think that I can become weak. You have to become strong, there is nothing else."
Bumrah and his older sister, Juhika, were latchkey kids, as Daljit stretched her working days, tutoring kids privately to support her income. If Juhika's school day lasted longer than usual, Jasprit would let himself into the house, heat up his food and eat alone, watching cricket and dreaming.
"The only thing I could give to them was education, so they had to do everything on their own," Daljit says. "There is no backing, there is no support, you have to stand on your feet…I was so busy just bringing them up that I never forced things on my kids." She says her son and daughter are older than their age because "they became independent a long time back". She encouraged them to read. "I wanted them to think for themselves and choose whatever they want. I had to make them thinking kids."
Jasprit's friend Juneja says Bumrah has always been his own coach. "He respects the talent that he has. He values what he's got in life. He knows that his work is to go there, play, enjoy himself and come back, and not get into the other things that come with cricket." Like what Wright called the "paraphernalia" of IPL - handling fame, or fresh attention from those who had distanced themselves during tough times.
The family that had abandoned his mother after his father's death made the headlines in December 2017, with the news that Bumrah's paternal grandfather had come looking for him from out of town, only to be found dead two days later in the Sabarmati river. Daljit didn't want to speak about the fractured relations between the two families, what she went through after the sudden death of her husband two decades ago, or the new-found desire by Jasbir's family to share in Jasprit's success.
Kids go through their paces at Nirman School, Bumrah's alma mater
Sharda Ugra / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Kids go through their paces at Nirman School, Bumrah's alma mater Sharda Ugra / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Somewhere along the way, Bumrah bought his own Nikes and said to his overjoyed mother, "I told you so."
In April, he posted a selfie with Daljit and Juhika, with the caption: "They're all I have. They're all I need." The small apartment where he set out from on his beat-up bicycle ten years ago is where he forged his ambition and where he returns to clear his head. When Bumrah's friends ask him how on earth he manages to keep it together during the death throes in a match ("We would faint!"), he told the Times of India, "I tell them that this my job, this is what I get paid for."
The problem with charisma is that it gets attached to political leaders, even in dictionaries. The Oxford says it is "a compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others". Ibrahimovic describes a goal he scored for Swedish club Malmo FF, watched by foreign scouts. He saw the opening - "one of those images which appears in my head" - and drilled a volley home. He then raced around like a madman, shouting, "Showtime, showtime." That's more Kohli, less Bumrah. Yet charisma doesn't look the same everywhere; it takes various shapes, sizes and manners. But finally, when you see it, you know it.
Imagine a match in the 2019 World Cup. India have scored what looks like too little. Let's say 183-ish, and they must defend it. Their lead bowler steps up, 5ft 9in, swarthy, with spiky, cropped hair, strong as a whip. Millions are watching. The bowler sizes up the batsman, takes a deep breath and begins his peculiar run-up. No one is joking or thinking about it or wondering where it came from. The compelling centre of their attention is simply the fast bowler India has been waiting for.
Jasprit Bumrah, India Test cap No. 290, ODI cap No. 210, about to bowl his first ball. Any way you look at it, he's made it showtime.
Sharda Ugra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo
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